Christmas is a time of joy and laughter but when somebody close to you has died, you might find that your grief is more intense.
And as this week gets underway, with families across the UK beginning to spend more time together (even if it is over Zoom), grieving can feel a little overwhelming.
“It’s important to be kind to yourself and remember that these feelings are normal, and that you’re not on your own this Christmas,” says Felicity Ward, Counsellor atSue Ryder’sOnline Bereavement Counselling service.
"Everyone grieves differently and will find different things challenging or comforting," she adds. "It may be that not all of these suggestions will be helpful for you, but some might be worth thinking about."
Here, Felicity shares her top tips for getting through the festive season if you're struggling – and the most important thing is to put yourself first.
Do whatever feels right for YOU
Imagine how you would treat a friend experiencing what you’re going through and be a good friend to yourself. Allow yourself to feel down and speak about your loved one.
Give yourself permission not to ‘do’ Christmas this year. If you are finding things difficult, you have the right to step away from the usual traditions and rituals until you feel ready to pick them up again. If you find Christmas traditions will remind you of the person who has died, change things up – for example, eat your favourite meal for Christmas Day lunch instead of turkey.
Equally, it might feel right for you to celebrate Christmas as close to the ways you usually would. Listen to yourself, talk amongst your friends and families about their wants and wishes and see how you can all work together in a way that honours everyone.
Don’t feel guilty
Consider in advance some festive activities that will create a distraction throughout the difficult days around Christmas. For example, play a much-loved board game, or take a walk to look at the local lights with friends.
People may find they miss someone more during Christmas time or they may find they’re more distracted from their grief due to the chaos and exhaustion of Christmas – it varies from person to person and no two people will experience grief the same.
The most important thing to note is that there is no wrong or right way to feel, and it can be difficult to prepare for how grief might affect you as it quite often catches us off guard.
It’s also important to not feel guilty about enjoying yourself at Christmas, especially if your loss is recent.
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Have a cry – it helps
Tears can be a good thing. As a society, we still have a long way to go to remove the stigma of crying and talking about death.
Crying is an important and necessary part of grief, and as much as you might fear that once you start crying you will never stop – you will, and you may even feel a little better for doing so.
People might also be surprised at what can suddenly become a trigger for their grief e.g. noticing a missing place mat from the dinner table, or watching a Christmas film that was their favourite. If this happens, take a moment away from the hustle and bustle to take a deep breath and acknowledge your feelings.
If you're trying to help someone who is grieving, that can feel tricky too. Here's Felicity's advice on what to do…
Be guided by them
If you know someone who has lost a loved one, listen to what they want and be guided by them. Don’t be scared to ask them how you can help and let them know you are there if they wish to open up.
Equally, they might not want to speak about their grief around Christmas, which should also be acknowledged and respected.
Be mindful that Christmas could be extra difficult for them
For some this time of year could be painful so don’t attempt to ‘jolly’ your loved one along if they seem to be struggling. Remember, they are doing the best they can and may need more support than usual.
Don’t be frightened to talk about their loved one
Talk about the person who has died and bring them up, unless of course the grieving person has said they’re not ready to speak about them yet. Acknowledging the person who has died is incredibly powerful and important and something many people wrongly shy away from.
Be available to them when they want you
If possible, take time out of your day to contact grieving friends or family and continue to invite them to join in with social occasions. It might be that they turn down these invitations, but nonetheless, they will be grateful that the option is there and to know you are thinking of them.
Send a card to show you care
You could also send them a sympathy card to let them know you are there for them. Sue Ryder's range of cards have been designed to be sent to friends and family at difficult times, including the first Christmas since their bereavement. The pack of four cards are available to order for free with an optional donation fromsueryder.org/griefkindcards.
Grief takes time. I often hear from clients that they feel expected to have ‘gotten over’ their grief after a certain period, but this is not always realistic and can feel unfair. Whilst time can help us to feel less raw and give us experiences that can help us feel more engaged with life again, it can never take away how much we miss a person – particularly around special occasions such as Christmas.
Don’t assume that because someone seems like they are okay that this is the whole story or even the truth – they may still need your support or help. Always ask.
Sue Ryder provide a range of online bereavement support, including free video counselling delivered through trained bereavement counsellors, an online community offering 24-hour peer to peer support and a wide range of advice and resources for people who are grieving or supporting someone through bereavement.
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